From Rock To Jock
Miami-born Johnny Holliday (née John Holliday Bobbitt) has actually had two successful careers in radio: first, as a premier disc jockey at the height of the Top 40 era, then as a top-notch play-by-play announcer and sportscaster. He began his career at WBBN/Perry, Ga., and progressed to WFEC in his Florida hometown and WVRM/Rochester, N.Y., before rocketing to rock radio stardom at WHK/Cleveland, WINS/New York, KYA/San Francisco and WWDC/Washington, D.C.
Along the way, he served as the announcer for “Hullabaloo” and “The Roger Miller Show” on NBC-TV. He segued into sportscasting fulltime while in the nation’s capital, becoming the play-by-play voice of Navy football and George Washington University football and basketball, which led to his current daily sports report on the ABC Radio Network and his role as the play-by-play voice of the University of Maryland Terrapins, a position he has held for three decades.
In addition, Johnny has covered the Olympics, the Masters Tournament, USFL football and countless other sporting events. His radio station celebrity basketball and softball teams — known widely as the “Oneders” (pronounced “Wonders”) — have raised millions of dollars for charity in each of the major markets he has worked in. He has served as a television host for the Easter Seals, Muscular Dystrophy, March of Dimes, Children’s Hospital, Cerebral Palsy and Leukemia telethons, and was honored by Washington Magazine as “Washingtonian of the Year.”
Following WINS/New York’s shift from music to news, he accepted an offer to go west. The move proved fruitful for KYA and Johnny Holliday, as he was named America’s Number One Top 40 Disc Jockey and the station found its greatest popularity during his time at the station.
During his more than four years at KYA in San Francisco (1965-1969), Johnny was a fan favorite on the air and off, holding down an air shift as well as hosting record hops, concerts and other station events — plus anchoring the KYA version of the Oneders, who featured future NBA Hall of Famer and Bay Area radio personality Rick Barry on their roster during one amazing season. Johnny met Barry while the former worked courtside as public address announcer for Warriors’ home games and the latter starred on the hardwood for the NBA team. Moving from the arena to the stadium, Johnny also handled public address vocals at the Coliseum for the Oakland Raiders.
In 2002, Johnny Holliday (with the assistance of his co-author, Stephen Moore) looked back on every phase of his incredible broadcasting career in his memoir, “From Rock To Jock.” With the kind permission of the authors, we present this excerpt focusing on Johnny’s days at KYA.
So strong are the personalities at KYA, the leading Hot 100 station here, that Johnny Holliday once out-Pulsed a baseball game in audience ratings. His real strength at being able to influence his teenage listeners also cropped up in Billboard’s latest Radio Response Rating survey of the market. He was leading air personality at influencing sales of singles records with 42 percent of the votes of record dealers, distributors, one-stop operators, and local and national record company executives.
— Billboard, March 26, 1966
My agreement with Westinghouse had me tied up so I couldn’t work within 100 miles of New York. That’s how tight the contracts were back then. With ten months remaining on my WINS contract, I knew I’d have some money coming my way to hold me over until I found a new job.
The Westinghouse plan was to send me to one of their other stations. My options were Boston, Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, Chicago, or station KYW in Cleveland. I knew I didn’t want to return to Cleveland and go up against my beloved WHK.
Before I left WHK for New York, my general manager, Jack Thayer, had promised the door “would always be open” if I ever needed work. Now, without a job, I did consider Jack’s invitation. However, I knew in my heart that I couldn’t recapture the excitement of what I had accomplished at WHK. I really couldn’t go back. All Cleveland options were dead on arrival as far as I was concerned.
My next call came from Clint Churchill, owner of San Francisco’s KYA, and the same guy who had tried unsuccessfully to hire me in Buffalo. I answered the phone, and Clint boomed, “Now I gotcha!”
“Yeah, it’s a good chance that you do,” I answered.
Clint flew to New York and we discussed his job offer over dinner.
“I can’t pay you a lot of money, but I can get you what you came to New York for. You can work for me at KYA,” he told me.
It sounded pretty great to me. I knew little about KYA, and I had never been to San Francisco, but I took his word for it and agreed to the job.
Clare and I packed up the house, our two girls, and our English pug, “Toasty the Wonder Dog,” and flew to the city by the bay. Bill Gavin, with his wife, Janet, met us at the airport. Bill Gavin and Clint Churchill were the only people we knew in San Francisco, which was fine by me since Gavin was the most powerful man in the music business.
Fifteen years earlier, Billboard magazine had published an “Honor Roll of Hits,” the Top 30 best-selling single records in America each week. Bill Gavin took that list and turned it into a radio show on station KNBC. The first of his real genius moves was when he thought to write disc jockeys across the country and ask them to send him their Top Ten record lists. “Mad Daddy” Myers was one of Gavin’s earliest contributors.
Radio stations began to ask Bill if he would help them program their own formats around this “Top Ten” approach. Next, Gavin developed a rotation scheme where new records would be added once an hour. He first marketed this programming service to KYA and San Diego’s KCBQ. Bill added a report three times a week on what songs he thought should be played and the tunes that other stations were tracking. This became the “Bill Gavin Record Report.” It was the radio programmer’s Bible.
Copyright © 2002 by Johnny Holliday and Stephen Moore. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with the permission of the authors.